BETWEEN IBB AND HIS CRITICS
Throughout history, it has always been the lot of leaders of men to attract controversies to themselves either as a result of their public policies or due to their private affairs. General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida is one person whose name evokes extreme passion on both sides of the divide of human relationship. He has opponents who hate or dread his guts with passion just as he commands friends and associates who are ready to follow him to battle blindfolded.
Shortly after he took over the reigns of government in 1985, IBB had cause to describe Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the main issue in Nigerian politics. Today, 17 years after IBB left power, it can be appropriately affirmed that every observation he made on Awo's dominance of political discourse in Nigeria has come to be his own lot. Just as he said on Chief Awolowo, the basic question that follows every major issue in the country has, in the last two decades, been on whether it is backed or opposed by Babangida.
Not all leaders are that blessed with such aura that flaunts the evergreen colour of perpetual relevance.
The interest shown by General Babangida in the 2011 Presidential elections has expectedly drawn almost unprecedented comments, for and against, by those who know and those with marginal knowledge of issues of leadership. I have read those who claimed to be his former admirers like one Olufemi Aduwo in the Daily Sun of Thursday May 6. I have also read the highly celebral Biodun Jeyifo who raised what he called ' the convenient and fundamental objections' to IBB's 'second coming.' There are also those who feel that he, like others in his generation, had had their fair share of the opportunity to be on the nation's driver's seat. To such people, IBB should not be allowed to come back at all costs. They readily point at what are described as his misdeeds while in power as proofs that he should be barred from the governance of the nation.
It is interesting that IBB is coming out. It is equally interesting that elements who flaunt democratic credentials are the loud ones wanting to drown the former President's ambition in the ocean of their emotions. They readily cite the annulment of the 1993 Presidential elections by his government as the ultimate sin for which he must never be allowed to ever move near power again. Are the IBB -Must- Not- Run advocates not committing the same anti- democracy sin which they accused the retired General of by their seeking to annul his ambition even before he steps out to the combat ring? That is my worry and I want to say that in fighting a cause, no matter how altruistic, care must be taken to ensure that the justice of the matter is not negated by weapons deployed by the foot soldiers.
The IBB government experimented with a two party political system that eventually threw up the candidature of Chief MKO Abiola (Social Democratic Party) and Bashir Tofa (National Republican Convention).
Did IBB's critics watch the House of Representatives debate on the desirability of the Two- Party system on Thursday 13th May, 2010 with many of the members praising the wisdom behind its introduction in the Third Republic which made June 12 a reference point in electoral integrity?
It is significant that the June 12, 1993 annuled election has always been adjudged as the fairest and freest in the nation's democratic history. It is equally very important that since that 1993 electoral experience, Nigeria has conducted three Presidential elections with none of them changing the first position of the June 12 election in Nigeria's history. Even certain innovations like the Open Ballot system, Modified Open Ballot System and the Option A4 System have continued to evoke debates within and outside Nigeria's democratic structures.
So, while we condemn the annulment, is it not necessary too to acknowledge the wisdom that made the feat possible in the first place?
In any case, I believe issues being raised at this stage by people who are not even members of the Peoples Democratic Party to which IBB belongs are premature. Shouldn't we let the members of the party decide first whether he is their candidate or not? Let him first become the candidate of his party before opening the fire on him.
Perhaps then, he will prove his worth as a General even in the art of political engagements by showcasing his reasons for the actions he took as a Military President.
I believe when the time comes, IBB will address some of the issues his sworn enemies are hanging on him. He has already challenged us as a nation to calculate how much accrued into the national purse in his entire eight years to debunk the claim that there was ever a $12.4billion which was misappropriated. I think we should take up that challenge, look at the books and be courageous and truthful enough to publish our findings. I wish our pro-democracy activists can readily take up that challenge. I also wish they would provoke and cooperate with researchers who may want to work on how much was received as grants by pro-June 12, pro-democracy groups during the IBB regime and the era that followed.
Babangida's enemies will also point at the death of Dele Giwa which occurred during his era but will be silent on whether there had not been similar criminalities in succeeding regimes which were not hung on the necks of the leaders of the regimes. One day, it is hoped, the full story will be told and God, the ultimate judge will vindicate the just.
We should stop approaching the IBB 2011 issue as if the electorate do not matter. Fortunately, we operate a multi- party system which allows every voter the opportunity of adequate choice. So, why are we working ourselves to a frenzy in a very undemocratic manner asking someone not to run for an office which the constitution says he is qualified to aspire to? In a democracy, you let the people decide. In a democracy, you make the arena as widely open as possible for all to come and ventilate their views, their ideas and ambitions.
I have read some commentators who described the eight years of IBB's government as a complete waste. Each time I encounter such comments I ask whether such people really meant what they wrote. Were the Babangida years really of the locusts? Would the politicians who were detained for nearly two years without trial by the preceding Mohammadu Buhari regime say sincerely that IBB's regime was not corrective? I will love to hear especially, the National Chairman of the Action Congress, Chief Bisi Akande on what he thinks on this? What about the two Guardian journalists, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, who regained their freedom during IBB's rule after being jailed by Buhari for speaking the truth? Would they also sneer at the Babangida years?
Talk about infrastructural development, younger Nigerians of about 20 years of age may be conned by paid writers to believe that IBB was a total failure as Military President. I am old enough to ask that if such writers live in Lagos, would they claim ignorance of the existence of the Third Mainland Bridge? That bridge stands as a silent example of some of the landmarks of the Babangida era. I know that such IBB monuments dot the Nigerian landscape. I am equally aware that since IBB left, successive governments have continued to mouth their desire to construct the Fourth Mainland Bridge. They are still planning to do so 17 years after IBB left power. I will not join those who for the purpose of their current political precariousness score him zero in national development.
The Nigerian political class can be comical and theatrical in playing up issues. I saw in the media at the weekend an interesting photograph taken in Katsina at the burial of the late President Umaru Yar'Adua in which Chief Bisi Akande and Senator Bola Tinubu sat beside IBB conversing intimately with him. What were they discussing? I was amused because only a few days earlier some Action Congress leaders led by Akande and Tinubu had, in a showy manner, refused to participate in Adams Oshiomhole's One Man, One Vote rally in Benin because IBB was there and they did not want to stand on the same podium with him. These gentlemen have the right not to associate with anyone they do not want but I feel they should not take Nigerians for a ride in doing so.
I appeal to all those opposed to IBB to do so democratically. They should not use anti-democratic tactics to fight what should otherwise be a democratic struggle. We cannot be talking democracy and be, at the same time, calling for the head of one who is exercising his right to aspire to any office. Those who are threatened or frightened by IBB's declared ambition are advised to work harder to promote whoever they preferred.
The man, no doubt, like any mortal, made mistakes while in power. Mistakes are hallmarks of leaders who are not afraid to take actions.
Such leaders are also not averse to owing up and taking responsibility for whatever is done by their governments. IBB has accepted responsibility for every action, good and bad, taken by his government. He should be respected for that.
•Boladale is the Executive Director of the Centre for Democratic Integrity and Fairness, Lagos.